After several years in the headlines, the U.S. opioid crisis has been in the news this summer as the federal government debates its status as a national emergency. On July 31st, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, released its interim report on the state of the U.S. opioid crisis. As their “first and most urgent recommendation” for President Trump, the members of the Commission urged him to “[d]eclare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act.”
The report emerged just as federal officials published a widely cited study showing that 91.8 million (37.8%) U.S. adults had used prescription opioids in 2015, 11.5 million (4.7%) had misused them, and 1.9 million (0.8%) had an opioid use disorder. Nearly half (40.8%) of the individuals who had misused opioids had obtained them for free from family or friends. News reports on the study also declared that “[o]pioid abuse started as a rural epidemic” of “hillbilly heroin” but has now become a “national one.”
President Trump did not initially declare a national opioid emergency, vowing instead in a briefing on August 8th to focus on prevention, increased law enforcement and drug-related prosecutions, and more aggressive policing of U.S. borders. By August 10th, after significant criticism, Trump told reporters, “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency.” As of September 1st, the Trump administration had yet to take the legal steps to formally declare a national emergency around the opioid crisis.